On Wednesday night, the biggest stage wasn’t too big for freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino.
Sporting a new undershirt with his hair in a bun, dealing with one of the best teams in the country against the No. 18 University of North Carolina, Hood-Schifino didn’t flinch. Instead, he pulled up, nailing jumper after jumper.
In No. 10 Indiana men’s basketball’s signature 77-65 win, a calm and collected Hood-Schifino shouldered the burden of his role as Indiana’s guard in the first half, and helped the Hoosiers build a steady lead.
Hood-Schifino was controlled taking the ball up the court, choosing several times to slow down the pace instead of pushing a fast break when Indiana wasn’t set. He facilitated too, once lobbing a ball up to co-freshman Malik Reneau in the second half to assist on a layup that put Indiana up 13 points.
"We knew they were going to come in bringing energy and try to knock us off our feet,” Hood-Schifino said in the postgame press conference. “I just came in confident and just shot my shot. I feel like I was a spark.”
Hood-Schifino has struggled to start his career, shooting just 33% through Indiana’s first six games. In Indiana’s first test on the road at Xavier University, Hood-Schifino's offense was a nonfactor — he shot just 1-for-9 and added 3 points.
But none of that worries head coach Mike Woodson, who said Hood-Schifino has been plenty important to the team’s winning streak.
“Jalen, as far as I'm concerned, has been solid ever since I got him,” Woodson said. “I have no complaints with Jalen Schifino. He tries to do all the right things, the winning things, to help you win.”
Wednesday, Hood-Schifino didn’t show any hesitation to shoot the ball. He scored the Hoosiers’ first seven points, then pulled to hit a second 3-pointer just a minute after subbing into the game. He finished the night with a career-high 14 points and six rebounds, and his plus/minus was a team high plus-18.
“Jalen came out and he was really our spark to start the game,” senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. "It was ridiculous. He was hitting big shot after big shot. I think our team fed off of that.”
For all the energy Hood-Schifino provided the Hoosiers in the first act of the game, it was his veteran teammate bringing the spark off the bench in the second act of the game.
Thanks to his defense, junior guard Trey Galloway’s teammates gave him a nickname: “Crazy man.”
Late in the first half and throughout the second half, Galloway’s crazy man antics delivered blow after blow to North Carolina, bringing a new level of energy into Assembly Hall.
Galloway, who missed the last two games with a knee injury, arrived on the scene just before the end of the first half with a fastbreak layup after senior guard Xavier Johnson forced a turnover. On North Carolina’s next possession, Indiana got another defensive steal and Johnson found Galloway pushing the pace up the court.
Galloway slammed Johnson’s pass home, bringing the crowd to its loudest point of the night.
“A lot of it is just playing hard, man,” Woodson said. “You learn to teach young guys how to play hard, man. That's 90% of it, man. You figure the other 10% out through X's and O's and doing all the little things that help you win. He’s figured that out. He figured that out a year ago when I took the job.”
Galloway finished the night with 11 points, one of four Hoosiers to score double digits. Seven of his points came in his 14 second-half minutes.
“Trey brings so much energy to our team, especially on the defensive end of the floor,” Jackson-Davis said. “He just thrives off of it. He always guards their best guard. He's always in their head trying to get them to make mistakes.”
Galloway and Hood-Schifino switched off defending junior guard Caleb Love. Love shot just 31% Wednesday, putting up 13 points after he entered the game averaging 20 points.
“I thought Galloway tonight was phenomenal, man,” Woodson said. “The way he played based on the fact that he hadn't practiced in the last 10, 11 days, it was nice to have him back.”
Indiana will begin Big Ten Conference play when it travels to Rutgers on Sunday, looking to maintain momentum from a signature win. The game tips off at 4 p.m. in Piscataway, New Jersey.